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Fresh fruits, wine make sangria perfect summer cocktail

The sangria at Julian Serrano’s eponymous tapas restaurant at Aria was so popular, resort management decided to serve a version of it at the pool. And, as is fitting with sangria, they decided to have some fun with it: It has a rose base, is made with honeydew juice, and the “ice cubes” are a little different.

“We serve it with frozen grapes as our ice cubes,” said Craig Schoettler, the property’s mixologist. “One thing about fruit is it’s got a high water content. When it thaws, since things expand when they freeze, the cell walls kind of break up and as it thaws it leaches out its juices.”

Grapes are, as he pointed out, one of the main ingredients in wine, which is one of the main ingredients in sangria.

“As the ice melts, instead of adding water to the cocktail, it adds grape juice, kind of refreshes the drink,” he said. “And who doesn’t love frozen grapes at the pool?”

Not many people, apparently; Schoettler said since the drink was introduced recently, sales have been high.

“It’s probably our biggest-selling pool cocktail,” he said. “Once people see the frozen grapes — you see something that interests you, you want it.”

Which is not to say the rose sangria served at the pool is as popular as the red, white and sparkling sangrias served at Julian Serrano, a tapas restaurant.

“It’s the most popular cocktail on their menu, hands down,” Schoettler said. “They go through about 900 liters a week,” which is roughly 900 quarts, or about 225 gallons.

Sangria originated in Spain, which makes it a natural accompaniment to tapas, whether they be riffs on the traditional dishes like many of those served at Julian Serrano, or the multicultural, border-bending tapas dishes served at Firefly’s two locations, on Paradise Road and West Sahara Avenue.

“Oh, man, we sell so much,” owner John Simmons said of his sangria. “I don’t know how many hundreds of gallons we go through a week. The red is the most popular”; white and sparkling also are available.

“We’ve been serving the same exact recipe for almost 11 years,” he said. “A couple of times through the years we haven’t been able to locate the wine, so we did tastings with other wines to maintain the consistency.”

Which is not to say sangria can’t be served with other cuisines. It’s also a big seller at Khoury’s, where the food is Lebanese.

“It goes with tapas, and we have something called mezze, which is similar to tapas,” owner Mariz Khoury said. “That’s kind of what gave us the idea. It’s just something that goes with our appetizers.”

Khoury said the restaurant serves red and pomegranate sangrias, and the former is by far the most popular.

“We have some regulars that come in just for the red,” she said.

So what’s the secret to making a good sangria? Khoury said theirs is fresh lemonade, made in-house.

“Anybody can mix alcohol,” she said. “That’s the main ingredient in both of them,” along with brandy and fresh fruit.

Simmons and Schoettler differ on what quality of wine to use.

“To me, the secret is starting with good wine,” Simmons said. “A lot of places are going to use the cheapest stuff they can find out of a box. Also, we use only fresh fruit; we don’t use any juices, concentrates or soda.”

“It is wine-based, so you need to start with a wine that is flavorful and not too tannic,” Schoettler said. “But since it’s getting mixed up with everything else, you don’t want to use an expensive wine.”

But then he demurred.

“If money was not an object, an expensive wine would make a fantastic sangria,” he said. “But it doesn’t make sense.”

The most important point, Schoettler said, is freshness — “keeping the sangria fresh and not making one batch that’s going to last six, seven, eight days.

“The flavors need to marry and homogenize; you want it to taste like sangria, but especially if you leave it on fruits too long, the fruits it sits on kind of deteriorate and take on this unpleasant off-flavor.”

He also suggests not loading the sangria down with lots of other alcohols in addition to wine.

“Keep it refreshing, because that’s the style of cocktail it is, a spring and summer drink,” he said. “You get a pitcher of it because it’s that easy to drink and tends to have a low enough alcohol content that you can drink a quantity of it without being on the floor. You’re not making a wine-based cocktail; you’re just kind of spiking wine with alcohol.”

Ideally, Schoettler said, you should keep the proportion one part alcohol to five parts everything else, including wine.

And he said not to get bogged down in spicy flavors.

“For red sangrias, you tend to see some brown spice component — cinnamon, cloves, star anise, nutmeg,” he said. “A lot of times, you see that overdone. It should be a flavoring component that enhances the drink, it shouldn’t be a main player. It shouldn’t be a clove sangria; it should be a sangria that has clove in it.”

But back to those pitchers; they’re $20 (normally $28) during happy hour at Khoury’s, which is from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays. The sangria’s half-price during Firefly’s happy hours, which are from 3 to 6 p.m. daily at the Sahara location and 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 3 to 5 p.m. Fridays at the Paradise location. And during reverse happy hour, which is from 9 p.m. to closing on Sahara, 11 p.m. to closing on Paradise. At Julian Serrano, the red and sparkling sangrias are $5 a glass and the white $4.50 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays.

Simmons noted that the word “sangria” refers to blood.

“I always think of sangria as the blood that runs through the veins of Firefly,” he said. “The lifeblood of the restaurant.”

THE BEST SANGRIA

2 large juice oranges, washed; one orange sliced; remaining orange juiced

1 large lemon, washed and sliced

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup Triple Sec

1 bottle inexpensive, fruity, medium-bodied red wine (750 milliliters), chilled

Add sliced orange, lemon and sugar to large pitcher; mash gently with wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice, but is not totally crushed, and sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Stir in orange juice, Triple Sec and wine; refrigerate for at least two and up to eight hours.

Before serving, add 6 to 8 ice cubes and stir briskly to distribute settled fruit and pulp; serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Notes from America’s Test Kitchen: For a robust, sweet-tart sangria recipe, we started with cheap red wine, which actually makes a better sangria than the expensive stuff; an inexpensive merlot is the best choice. The longer sangria sits before drinking, the more smooth and mellow it will taste. A full day is best, but if that’s impossible, give it an absolute minimum of two hours to sit.

— Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated

MEXICAN SANGRIA

3 cups sugar

2½ cups fresh lime juice

12 cups water

1 (1-liter) bottle sparkling water

1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry red wine

Garnishes: lime and kumquat slices

Stir together sugar and fresh lime juice in a large punch bowl until sugar is dissolved. Stir in water, sparkling water and wine. Serve over ice.

Makes about 1½ gallons.

— Recipe from Southern Living

CAROLINA PEACH SANGRIA

1 (750-milliliter) bottle rose wine

¾ cup vodka (see notes)

½ cup peach nectar

6 tablespoons thawed frozen lemonade concentrate

2 tablespoons sugar

1 pound ripe peaches, peeled and sliced

1 (6-ounce) package fresh raspberries (see notes)

2 cups club soda, chilled

Combine first five ingredients in a pitcher; stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in peaches and raspberries. Cover and chill 8 hours.

Stir in chilled club soda just before serving.

Notes: Peach-flavored vodka may be substituted for the vodka; omit peach nectar. And 1 cup frozen raspberries may be substituted for the fresh raspberries.

Makes about 9 cups.

— Recipe from Southern Living

WHITE WINE STRAWBERRY SANGRIA

1 bottle (750 milliliters) white wine

½ cup strawberry schnapps liqueur

¼ cup sugar

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

Ice cubes

In a 2-quart pitcher, stir the wine, liqueur and sugar until sugar is dissolved; add strawberries. Chill for at least 2 hours. Serve over ice.

Serves 6.

— Recipe from Taste of Home

WHITE SANGRIA

1/3 cup brandy

1/3 cup peach schnapps

1½ tablespoons sugar

2 (750-milliliter) bottles white Rioja wine, chilled

1 lemon, thinly sliced

1 small navel orange, quartered and sliced

1 green apple, cored and sliced

1 ripe peach, peeled and sliced

1 (12-ounce) bottle sparkling water, chilled

Combine first three ingredients in a large pitcher; stir to dissolve sugar. Stir in wine and next four ingredients (through peach). Chill at least 2 hours or until cold.

Stir in sparkling water.

Serves 12.

— Recipe from Cooking Light

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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